Homegrown Leadership


There are 11 military boarding schools for boys in the United States and one of the best is in the Rio Grande Valley.

For more than 50 years, the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen has been a mission-focused preparatory school that instills leadership traits and education that provide young men with the tools they need to be successful.

“Our students come from all over the world, and they always have, said Kristin Luckey, MMA’s director of marketing and publication relations. “We have students from China; we have students from Alaska and from London. We currently have four students from Ukraine, but a majority of our students come from Texas and we’ve always had a large population from Mexico, too.”

Many of those students–particularly those who stay for post-graduation to apply for colleges–aspire to great things. Many have gone on to West Point Military Academy, Annapolis Naval Academy, or Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets before joining a branch of our military services. Others, however, have gone on to achieve great things in other professions.

“We have an alum who won a Grammy Award for his work in Latin Music two years ago, and another who was part of a program monitoring icebergs, and we have another who is a renown chef in Houston,” Luckey said. “Our alums go on to do a lot of great things.”

The MMA was founded in 1965 by Capt. Bill Gary, an Arizona rancher and a retired U.S. Marine Reservist, was looking for a prep school where his son could learn Marine Corps ideology and traditions.

Such a school did not exist, so in 1963, Gary planned to start a school for young men in Prescott, Arizona.

However, that changed when Gary and his supporters learned about a shuttered World War II-era air force base in Harlingen.

On Sept. 9, 1965, the Marine Military Academy, the first-ever college-preparatory boarding school for young men in grades 7-12, opened its doors to 58 cadets, one of which was Gary’s son.

The MMA has been, and still is, the only private school in the world based on the traditions and values of the U.S. Marine Corps. Still, it is also based on the rigors of learning that encompasses a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), all of which take place in a small classroom environment.

Of course, the first step to ensure students are learning and focused involves removing cell phones or other electronic media devices.

“When those kids come in, we are able to remove all distractions, so they can focus on their academics,” Luckey said. “Those are things that have to be earned.”

On most days, the sound of military cadences echoes from the 142-acre complex as young men participate in early morning physical training, known as PT, well before sunrise.

After morning physical training, it is followed by breakfast–the first mess–and formation for colors before moving on and beginning their classroom work.

Luckey, whose youngest son attends MMA, said all the students are involved in after-school activities, such as jujitsu, tennis, boxing, baseball, or other physical activity.

This is followed up with more studies until lights out.

The cadets usually have a more relaxed schedule on weekends that allows for using their electronic devices. Still, Luckey said only if their academic performance and grades the previous week were acceptable.

Many alums have indeed gone on to do great things and have given credit to the training and education they received at MMA.

One of those was Frank Colunga, who graduated from MMA in the 1970s.

“After graduating from the Marine Military Academy in 1975, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Texas A&M and then enrolled at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas,” Colunga shared on the school’s webpage. “Today, I am a board-certified emergency room physician in Bryan, Texas, at St. Joseph’s Hospital and attribute my success to the study habits and life experiences I had at MMA.”

Joseph Bowman, who graduated in 1984 from MMA, said he wasn’t what many would consider MMA material when he arrived at the campus all those years ago. The experience, however, changed him for the better.

“The discipline I experienced at MMA manifested itself into the self-discipline needed for college and eventually the starting of my own business, which has succeeded since its inception in 1996. The experience stays with you,” he said.

To learn more or to schedule a visit, log on to mma-tx.org.


Bryan Kirk